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The Alliance of American Football aimed to offer football fans a springtime fix—some football after football because football. It also gave fringe NFL players a chance to raise their stock and get back to the promised land.
It was fun while it lasted. But on Tuesday, AAF owner Tom Dundon “decided to suspend all operations,” according to ESPN.com’s Michael Rothstein.
While this may be the end of the line for most AAF players, a select handful stood out enough to earn another bite at the NFL apple. For those players, the key will be finding the right NFL fit.
Luckily, we’re here to help.
And no, you won’t find Trent Richardson listed here. While he scored 11 rushing touchdowns for the Birmingham Iron, he also averaged fewer than three yards per carry. Thanks, but no thanks.
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These past few weeks have been a double-whammy for Jamar Summers.
First, the 6’0″, 190-pounder suffered a knee injury that caused him to miss what wound up being the final game for the Birmingham Iron. Then the league folded.
Summers, who played both free safety and cornerback at UConn, was one of the leading candidates for AAF Defensive Player of the Year. The best player on the league’s stingiest defense, Summers was physical in coverage and was tied for second leaguewide with three interceptions.
The Pittsburgh Steelers cut Summers prior to the 2018 season, which they may regret after seeing what he could do over the past few months. While the Steelers already had their shot, a team on the opposite coast has a need for depth in the secondary and a soft spot both for taller cornerbacks and taking fliers.
Summers in Seattle sounds like a Meg Ryan movie, but the fit makes sense.
Best Fit: Seattle Seahawks
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Charles Johnson has already been on five NFL teams, and he had 31 receptions for 475 yards and two touchdowns with the Minnesota Vikings in 2014.
Johnson’s performance with the Orlando Apollos should earn him a chance to latch on with a sixth squad.
He was the AAF’s most impressive receiver in 2019, leading the league in receiving yards (687) by a sizable margin. He also ranked sixth in yards per catch (15.3) and second in touchdown receptions (five).
The 6’2″, 217-pounder isn’t a burner who will take the top off an NFL defense. But more than a few NFL teams could use a dependable wideout who will run good routes and win the occasional jump ball.
A Washington Redskins squad whose receiver depth chart currently stars Josh Doctson and Paul Richardson leaps to mind.
Best Fit: Washington Redskins
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Few AAF players could match Damontre Moore’s NFL pedigree.
In 2013, the New York Giants selected Moore with a second-round pick. In his second season with the G-Men, he tallied 32 total tackles and 5.5 sacks. But in the four seasons since, Moore managed only 4.5 sacks for five different teams.
After two games with the Oakland Raiders last year, Moore signed with the San Diego Fleet to get his career back on track.
Moore was one of the AAF’s better pass-rushers, finishing tied for second leaguewide with seven sacks. He also played well against the run, piling up 22 total tackles.
While the 26-year-old already had one chance in Oakland, the Raiders should be more than open to trying out any pass-rusher after they managed a league-low 13 sacks last season.
Best Fit: Oakland Raiders
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Charles Johnson isn’t the only receiver who used his opportunity in the AAF to showcase what he can do for NFL teams.
Like Johnson, Rashad Ross was at or near the top of the AAF in just about every receiving category. He finished second in yards (583), third in receptions (36), fourth in yards per catch (16.2) and first in the league with seven scores.
Ross has spent time with NFL teams and made it into 13 games for the Redskins back in 2015. He averaged 23 yards per catch that year and scored on a 71-yarder from Colt McCoy.
While the 29-year-old journeyman may not be able to blow past NFL defensive backs the same way he did in the AAF, plenty of teams could use a downfield thread on a reasonable contract.
That includes the Arizona Cardinals, who need to get Larry Fitzgerald some help.
Best Fit: Arizona Cardinals
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Jayrone Elliott has already beaten the odds in the NFL once. The undrafted free agent out of Toledo not only stuck with the Green Bay Packers, but he appeared in 38 games from 2014 through 2016.
But after Elliott tallied only four sacks over those three years, the Packers traded him to the Dallas Cowboys for a seventh-round pick. He lasted only a few weeks in Dallas, and his attempt to latch on with the New Orleans Saints in 2018 ended prior to the start of the regular season.
The AAF offered Elliott another opportunity to play, and the 27-year-old availed himself of that opportunity. In addition to pacing the league with 7.5 sacks, Elliott was also second in the AAF in forced fumbles.
While Elliott’s first NFL stint ended unceremoniously, he’s young enough to have earned another shot from a 3-4 team that needs help off the edge.
The kings of that particular category are undoubtedly the New York Jets.
Best Fit: New York Jets
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Since breaking into the NFL as a sixth-round pick in 2014, Garrett Gilbert bounced from St. Louis to New England to Detroit to Oakland to Carolina. Stuck behind established starters in most of those places, Gilbert attempted a total of three regular-season passes, all of which came with the Panthers in 2018.
Under Orlando Apollos head coach Steve Spurrier in 2019, Gilbert got to attempt far more.
The 27-year-old was the only AAF quarterback to throw for more than 2,000 yards. He completed 60.6 percent of his passes with 13 touchdowns against three picks with a league-leading passer rating of 99.1.
Gilbert isn’t a diamond in the rough who will blossom into a superstar in the NFL. But he is mobile, relatively young and was the AAF’s best player at football’s most important position.
With the Miami Dolphins not-so-subtly tanking for Tua Tagovailoa in 2020, Gilbert would make for a fine backup option behind Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Who knows? They could even start him a few times late in the season.
Best Fit: Miami Dolphins
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Memphis Express linebacker DeMarquis Gates spent training camp with the Cleveland Browns last year, but that was his only NFL experience.
After his time in the AAF, Gates figures to get another shot.
In eight games (six starts) for the Express, Gates piled up an AAF-leading 52 total tackles and 46 solo tackles (or 53 solos and 19 assists, again depending on who you ask) . The 6’2″, 230-pounder, who piled up a team-high 114 total tackles as the starter at middle linebacker for Ole Miss in 2017, was a sideline-to-sideline tackling machine.
He also thrived on special teams (including a blocked punt), which should appeal to a lot of NFL teams.
Given his lack of size (from am NFL perspective), Gates may have a limited number of suitors. But smaller linebackers are making more of a dent in the NFL if they have the chops to hold their own in coverage.
Even if Gates can’t carve out an NFL career on defense, he could become a special teams mainstay by flying down the field on punt coverage like his hair is on fire.
There’s one coach in the NFL who values that above all others.
Best Fit: New England Patriots
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Most of the AAF kickers who hope to continue their careers in the NFL have already kicked there at some point. For instance, Arizona Hotshots kicker Nick Folk has played 11 seasons for three different teams.
However, Folk wasn’t the AAF’s most impressive kicker, nor is he the first one who NFL teams should scoop up.
Nick Rose of the San Antonio Commanders briefly played for the Washington Redskins in 2017, and he handled kickoff duties for the Los Angeles Chargers in their playoff loss to the New England Patriots in January.
During his in San Antonio, Rose went 14-of-14 on field-goal attempts and tied for the league lead in points. He also nailed both of his attempts from 50 yards or longer, including a 54-yarder.
The Chicago Bears currently don’t have a kicker who has ever attempted a field goal in a regular-season NFL game or made 75 percent of his kicks in college.
That feels like a mic drop moment.
Best Fit: Chicago Bears